The Works of Virgil, Containing His Pastorals, Georgics and Æneis
|The Works of Virgil|
Title page from The Works of Virgil, volume one, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.
|Published||London: Printed by J. and R. Tonson and S. Draper|
|Volumes||3 volume set|
|Desc.||12mo (17 cm.)|
Publius Vergilius Maro (70-19 BCE) was a Roman poet born in Cisalpine Gaul, meaning in Gaul on the side of the Alps closest to Rome (versus Transalpine Gaul). His family was well-off, enabling his studies at Cremona and Milan, as well as Rome and Naples, the latter under the Epicurean philosopher Siro. When land was confiscated following the battle of Phillippi in 42 BCE for the army veterans of Antony and Octavian, Virgil’s family lost land, but he was likely compensated with property near Naples due to his familiarity with the commissioners in charge of distributing that land. Virgil’s Eclogues, his first collection of poems, were likely written around that time, perhaps as late as 38 BCE, due to the confiscations being a central topic of two of the poems. At some later point, Virgil became part of the poetic circle around Maecenas, and therefore was in somewhat close connection with Octavian, the future emperor Augustus. Virgil published his Georgics in 29 BCE. Throughout the 20s BCE, both of Virgil’s books of poetry were widely read and distributed, though they were almost shadowed by his epic poem the Aeneid, which tells the tale of the Trojan Aeneas who flees Troy and eventually founds the Roman civilization. Despite leading a sickly and relatively secretive life, Virgil was extraordinarily famous as the poet who exemplified the greatness of the Roman Empire through “the technical perfection of his verse” and imagery. His fame only grew after his death, with his birthday being celebrated and his works and tomb revered as almost magical or miraculous. His popularity is clear by the vast number, and high quality, of copies of his works that survived from the third to fifth centuries CE. Even Christians, who generally opposed all “pagan” Roman works and ideas, appropriated and interpreted his works to their own benefit and understanding.
This volume contains the three most important of Virgil’s works: the Pastorals (“Bucolics” or “Eclogues”), the Georgics, and the Aeneid. The Pastorals muse on the idyllic life of shepherds in northern Italy, and they range in quality from apt imitations of Greek poems to keen literary and societal prognostication. The Georgics are, similarly, meditations on the nature of agriculture. The name “Georgics” refers to the Greek phrase for “working the land” and the word for “farmer.” Where Virgil’s pastoral poems were largely imitative, the focus and depth of his Georgics were unprecedented. Finally, the Aeneid is Virgil’s great epic, following the tradition of Homer. The work follows the story of Aeneis, who leaves behind his conquered homeland of Troy and goes on to found the culture that will eventually become Rome. Virgil himself captured the scope of these three works with the inscription on his tombstone, “cecini pascua rura duces” (I sang of farms, fields, and heroes).
John Dryden’s translation of the Georgics led to a surge in their popularity among English speakers in the eighteenth century, inspiring many romantic ideas about rural life and agriculture.
Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library
Thomas Jefferson listed Dryden's Virgil. 3.v. 12mo. in his inventory of Wythe's Library in the section of titles he kept for himself. Brown's Bibliography includes the 1748 edition published in London based on the copy Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress. This volume does not survive. George Wythe's Library on LibraryThing indicates "Precise edition unknown. Several three-volume editions were published at London, the first in 1721." The Wolf Law Library followed Brown's suggestion and purchased a copy of the 1748 edition.
Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy
Bound in full gilt-ruled calfskin with gilt-ruled spine compartments, elaborate gilt-tooled motifs, and gilt-tooled raised bands with morocco labels. Each volume includes the armorial bookplate of "Gambier with the Latin motto "Fide non armis" (By faith, not arms). Purchased from Heldfond Book Gallery, Ltd.
View this book in William & Mary's online catalog.
- "Virgil” in The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, ed. by M.C. Howatson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
- "Virgil " in Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World, ed. by John Roberts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)
- "Virgil” in The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature.
- Virgil, Georgics, trans. Peter Fallon, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), xiv.
- Ibid, xiii.
- Virgil, Aeneid, ed. Clyde Pharr, (Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci, 2007), 1–4.
- L. P. Wilkinson, The Georgics of Virgil: A Critical Survey, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 299–304.
- Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at: https://digitalarchive.wm.edu/handle/10288/13433
- E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 2nd ed. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983), 4:421-422 [no.4282].
- LibraryThing, s. v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on June 28, 2013, http://www.librarything.com/profile/GeorgeWythe